Recent research puts IT project failures (whether done in-house or outsourced) at between fifty-five and sixty-eight percent. There are a multitude of places to source these statistics, so many in fact, that its more than you can shake a stick at, but the article that triggered my inspiration recently was one written by Michael Kingsman of ZDnet back in ’09 (http://www.zdnet.com/article/study-68-percent-of-it-projects-fail). This failure rate is not only alarmingly unacceptable, but also literally costing organizations billions of dollars. This lost productivity ultimately ends up costing both jobs and economic growth, not to mention the untold amounts of stress as the fallout from failure ripples through companies, their employees and partners. Apart from the lost money and productivity, new jobs don’t get created, new businesses don’t get launched, or most damaging yet, company strategic goals don’t get realized and everyone is worse off when software projects do not meet the goals they started with creating an insidious butterfly effect.
Most projects start with the mantra “Failure is not an option!” Generally, the requirements are mapped out, reasonable, and sensible. They are directly correlated to the budget, defined and teams are given solid marching orders from the business. So, the project should succeed, right? Well, it’s not always that simple. In talking to many customers who have chosen to look to Monster Pixel to revamp a broken project, we generally hear the following four (4) reasons for breakdown:
- Poor Business Requirements Analysis
- Lack of Closed-Loop Communication
- Siloed Understanding of the Ultimate Outcome/Goal
- Lack of Well-Defined Checkpoints
Today, we’ll spend a bit of time on probably the most important…Communication.
It seems logical that in most cases when an organization has decided to invest serious money, someone along the chain of command in these projects would be responsible for a Project Communication Strategy. This would include an initial communication guide, regularly scheduled communication cadence, and a Feedback Loop. They would ensure that everyone understood Roles, Responsibilities and Objectives, as well as be in charge of notifying business unit owners when team members didn’t understand the project. Their core role would be meticulously tracking progress so that a month or so in everyone would be clearly seeing if the project is on-track or not.
In as much as we try to develop systems for efficiency, at times companies actually birth their own communications problems with unintended consequences. As an example, there’s the not so Urban Legend of the firm that overnighted packages from one floor to the other of the same building to communicate project changes and memos. Granted, this is a far-out example, and there was probably some rational reason for starting that process, but it goes to show it’s possible, really possible, for communication to be bad within great companies where, generally speaking, communications are strong. Generally, when projects do fail, other excuses are given for the lack of success: Not Enough Budget; Poor Developers; Bad Idea Overall; & Language Barrier (If Outsourced). However, when critically boiled down, and given a proper Post-Mortem, many of the times it comes down to Lack of Good Communication.
Now I have to admit, I’ve presided over my own fair share of failed projects in the past. Fortunately, those failures did in fact mold me into the leader and developer I am today, but they were most assuredly tough lessons to learn. There were times when I blamed the team (or vendor) for their constant missed deadlines, and/or poor deliverables. There were times when I blamed the budget, and there were instances where I blamed the Goal/Idea, but after thorough inspection concluded that it was Communication…my communication. I lacked the leadership, the understanding, that once a couple of deadlines are missed, it’s time really evaluate the process. It’s time to truly communicate with everyone on the project to make sure we were all in the same boat. Only then can you truly determine if it’s time “Fish or cut bait!” And once you make this determination deliver a clear and decisive message and create open lines of communication all the way around.
Thanks to those early lessons, we were able to create a process and methodology at Monster Pixel to work with our clients to steer clear of failure. Monster Pixel is full of project delivery professionals that write software for customers all over the world, and help them to reach their full business potential, and the main reason goes back to the core belief that Communication…good, strong, consistent communication drives achievable and consistent success. One of our core values is that ultimately, we’ll succeed because we apply the rule that excellent leadership, holding people accountable, and open and constant communication drive winning projects. If I might say so myself (and I’m a bit biased) Communication is the secret sauce in the Monster Pixel recipe!
Alvin P. Wells, II
CEO, Monster Pixel